By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor
Roberto Soldado has come full circle. The striker, born in Valencia, has finally found the big-time with his hometown club. But the road to the top has been long and arduous at times.
Soldado is the son of an amateur centre-forward, Toni Soldado, who starred at regional level in the 1970s and 80s. Soldado senior didn't initially encourage his son to take up the game he loved, shutting him in his room to study as a teenager. But every time he returned to check on the youngster, he found dozens of scrunched up pieces of paper on the floor, shaped into makeshift balls. Instead of having his head in the books, young Roberto had been heading into the wastepaper basket.
Capital gains | Soldado made an impact in Madrid, across town at Getafe
It may have been a waste of paper, but it certainly wasn't a waste of time. And Soldado senior quickly realised that his son had a special talent as he starred for his college side, Don Bosco, at the age of 14. It was there that his big break arrived, as Vicente del Bosque, then a youth couch at Real Madrid, came to assess his talents. Five days later, the teenager had moved to the capital club, despite his mother's protests.
Soldado's parents eventually moved to Madrid as well and watched their son grow into a highly promising centre-forward. At Castilla, Madrid's B side, Soldado struck 63 goals in 120 games, but saw his path to the first team blocked by higher-profile names, such as Raul, Ronaldo, Fernando Morientes and Michael Owen.
Opportunities were limited and Soldado was forced to move on. A year on loan at Osasuna brought some success, before a fruitless return to Real Madrid. But it was at Getafe where Soldado truly emerged as an international-class forward, striking 33 goals in 66 appearances just across the city from his first professional club.
|ROBERTO SOLDADO | The story so far
That form saw him snapped up by Valencia as a replacement for David Villa last summer and Soldado duly outscored his predecessor last season by 25 to 23 as the fans at Mestalla took him to their hearts. The forward began slowly but ended the season by scoring all four in a 4-2 win over Getafe and two more in a 5-0 trouncing of Villarreal in a hugely impressive run.
And he has picked up where he left off this season by scoring five goals in the opening three matches - including a hat-trick to secure a dramatic 4-3 win over Racing Santander on the first weekend of Primera Division action and a brilliant headed winner against Atletico Madrid - to register a simply stunning return of 17 strikes in his last 12 league matches and propel his side to the top of the table.
The five goals netted this term have him level with Lionel Messi at the top of the league's scoring charts, and the two come face to face in tonight's fascinating fixture at Mestalla. It's a duel the Valencia man will be keen to win.
Back in his hometown, and back scoring goals, Soldado will be looking to beat Barca for the first time in his career and, 12 years on, impress Del Bosque once again as he seeks international recognition since making two appearances for Spain in 2007. The cycle is almost complete.
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